How would you describe your career trajectory as an artist? What major challenges did you face to get where you are today and how did you confront those challenges?
The funny thing is, I never set out to be an artist. Since the age of nine, I dedicated myself to what has become a life-long career of graffiti. Graffiti was not traditionally considered a formal art form but the elements and the traditions of the lifestyle have influenced me tremendously and helped me accomplish my achievements thus far. My partner, Jennifer Ahn, introduced me to what has historically been called “fine art”. Graffiti art has definitely influenced what the art world recognizes as “legitimate” art today.
Although I have not received institutional training, I have not encountered many challenges being an artist. What has been challenging is the evolution of building Empire Seven Studios – an art gallery/boutique which I founded in San Jose. Up until recently, E7S was underground. Our biggest difficulty financially, has been tackling the tasks of developing and sustaining an independent arts business alone. But with hard work, motivation, and the relentlessness to never give up, we confronted many challenges and surpassed the financial obstacles that were holding us back.
Please describe the activity for which you received CCI funding. Why did you want to do it? What did you or your organization gain/learn from that experience?
Funding through the Creative Industry Incentive Fund supported by the San Jose Office of Cultural Affairs and CCI, helped us create a more noticeable storefront for E7S and therefore a more welcoming establishment since we are located in the middle of an industrial zone. We wanted to do this because many people would pass by our building and not want to walk inside because it was not your “typical” storefront. Since then, we've gained more recognition from the neighborhood and attracted outside visitors and tourists. Most importantly, we did it because we know now this is what we want to do and remain doing.
What I've learned from this experience is that you cannot do things alone; although you might want to try and at times you do. It’s important to reach out to those who care and understand exactly what you are going through and share the same passion for the arts. I've learned that financial support, like grants and programs like this, are key and essentially what helps sustain and maintain a business like E7S.
What professional development opportunities do you want/need next? Why?
The ideas are endless. E7S needs taller walls, a second project space (with lighting), and some key venue essentials like air-conditioning (since our patrons prefer to be in a well cooled environment). We need support from the City to do a bit more work on the street and landscape our sidewalks. This will be better for the business and the overall neighborhood. Additionally, we have a Mural Project that needs funding. Ideally we would like to see this expand throughout the City. Murals/public art can put San Jose on the map and make it a more vibrant place like our neighbor city, San Francisco.
What advise/direction do you wish someone had given you when you embarked on your career?
Being an artist is not easy. The constant financial struggle is something ultimately no one can prepare you for unless they give you large sums of cash. At that point you better bust ass to prove to yourself that you can make it work.
Is there anything else you would like to share with other artists and arts professionals about pursuing a career in the arts?
All I can share is what's molded me and it's a matter of opinion that won't necessarily work for everybody but it's worked for us so far:
Maintain positivity and be good to others. It'll come back tenfold. Nothing is easy and everything will take a lot of hard work, sometimes you struggle and want to give up but know that you're in it for the long run. That alone won't stop you.
Empire Seven Studios (E7S) is an Art Gallery/Boutique located in the North district of Downtown San Jose, CA. Founders Carlos Araujo & Jennifer Ahn established E7S in 2008, and since then has become a beacon to an underground art culture in the South Bay. Known for housing great talents and featuring art exhibition openings every 2nd Friday of the month, E7S has come a long way from its early beginnings as a project with friends. The consistent hard work over the years is a testament to the vigorous tasks and efforts played by each individual involved from the start.
What is now our life’s work is a privilege to share and enjoy with the public. E7S humbly pays tribute to the hard working artist; sacrificing day in and day out to push their work. This is a reminder that it’s because of them we are here and we will never conform or settle. Instead, we will continue to grow as was intended from the very beginning but staying rooted within our community.